Wednesday must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
June 23, 2004 5:28PM (UTC)

Torture document dump
The Washington Post reports on the White House "public relations offensive" to counteract the negative coverage on treatment of detainees by releasing hundreds of pages of documents yesterday -- documents it claims show the president did not authorize torture. The White House rejected the logic of one of the memos released -- aides "disavowed an internal Justice Department opinion that torturing terrorism suspects might be legally defensible, saying it had created the false impression that the government was claiming authority to use interrogation techniques barred by international law."

"Responding to pressure from Congress and outrage around the world, officials at the White House and the Justice Department derided the August 2002 legal memo on aggressive interrogation tactics, calling parts of it overbroad and irrelevant and saying it would be rewritten. In a highly unusual repudiation of its department's own work, a senior Justice official and two other high-ranking lawyers said that all legal advice rendered by the department's Office of Legal Counsel on the subject of interrogations will be reviewed."

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Another of the released documents was a Feb. 7, 2002, memo signed by Bush saying he believed he had 'the authority under the Constitution' to deny protections of the Geneva Conventions to combatants picked up in Afghanistan but that he would "decline to exercise that authority at this time." Here is a link to memos released yesterday.

On his blog Discourse.net, law professor Michael Froomkin analyzes Bush's Feb. 2002 memo: "On its own, this reads as an instruction to be humane at all times, and to follow Geneva when not too inconvenient. Whether this complies with international law or not, it does not read as a license to torture, which is presumably why the White House is releasing it. Note, however, that this order would, for example, be a license to create 'ghost' detainees from among the Taliban and al-Qaida (but not other Iraqis)."

"Note also what's not there. For example, nothing in this memo seems directed to the CIA, just to the military. I wonder if there's a separate order for the CIA with more flexibility?"

"It's also important to keep the confusing timeline straight. The OLC torture memo was delivered in August 2002, i.e. several months after this order. Thus, it is clear that this command, in Feb. 2002, to be 'humane' was not the last word on the subject in the minds of all policy makers, including the Presidents closest advisors such as his Legal Counsel. And we know that the Walker Group was still chewing on the torture question in March 2003, although we don't know what if anything came of it."

"In short, we don't know if this memo was ever countermanded, or amended, whether it applied to the CIA, or indeed what if anything ultimately resulted from subsequent advice to Bush that he could allow great physical pain to be applied during questioning of detainees. We do know, however, that as early as February 2002, in this memo, Bush had signed on to the dangerous theory of nearly unlimited Presidential power that informed the torture memos. We also know that in those months after this memo issued, many people around Bush were recommending, or prepared to recommend, that inhumane conduct was legal and justified."

Strategy shift on economy
The Wall Street Journal (free link) shows how Bush and Kerry are handling changing economic news and argues Democrats are "losing a pillar of their 2004 campaign argument: that a weak recovery is making it unusually hard for Americans to find work."

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"As a result, Democrats are edging away from their charges that President Bush is presiding over a 'jobless recovery,' which has been a staple of their campaign rhetoric. That argument is giving way to the line of attack that working America is suffering a 'middle-class squeeze.'"

"Under that approach, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry and his allies are trying to turn the focus more toward a series of financial woes that they say are afflicting even middle-class households without job worries: medical bills, gasoline prices and college tuition. Democrats further argue that there's still been a net job loss under Mr. Bush -- and that the jobs being created are inferior ones."

" ... The shift in the economic debate is significant, because it's been unclear how economic anxieties would compete with Iraq for voters' attention. President Bush's campaign also is shifting ground to take the new situation into account, sending administration aides and campaign officials out with each new batch of employment numbers to trumpet a turnaround in a subject that not long ago was a sore point. And they have begun portraying Mr. Kerry as an economic 'pessimist' who has a dour and unhelpful view of an economy that is turning up."

Arizona Dems file suit on Nader signatures
The Arizona Republic has the story on Arizona Democrats filing a lawsuit challenging whether Ralph Nader qualifies for a place on the ballot.

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"The state party would not provide specifics Tuesday, but a spokeswoman confirmed that the action will be filed before 5 p.m., the deadline for challenges to nominating petitions submitted June 9. Backers of Nader, who is running as an independent, filed more than 22,000 signatures, well beyond the 14,694 valid signatures required for a ballot spot."

"Democrats immediately began scrutinizing the petitions, and state party chairman Jim Pederson said Monday that a number of defects were found."

Kerry, Edwards meet in "secret"
Last week it was Gephardt and today the AP reports John Kerry met with John Edwards in "a brief, secretive meeting," a "spur-of-the-moment session in the Capitol."

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"The two men met in the President's Room, whether they knew the name or not, an ornate sitting room just off the Senate chamber, and they declined to speak with reporters afterward. While the brevity of the session indicated it was less than a full-fledged vice presidential interview, it came roughly a month before the opening of the Democratic National Convention, and at a time when Edwards is frequently mentioned as a potential running mate."

AP sues for Bush Guard records
The AP reports that it "sued the Pentagon and the Air Force on Tuesday, seeking access to all records of George W. Bush's military service during the Vietnam War. Filed in federal court in New York, where The AP is headquartered, the lawsuit seeks access to a copy of Bush's microfilmed personnel file from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Austin."

"The White House says the government has already released all the records of Bush's military service. Controversy surrounds Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard because it is unclear from the record what duties he performed for the military when he was working on the political campaign of a U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama."

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"There are questions as to whether the file provided to the news media earlier this year is complete, says the lawsuit, adding that these questions could possibly be answered by reviewing a copy of the microfilm of Bush's personnel file in the Texas archives."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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